In a true testament to his love for Wichita State University, Rick Muma didn’t hesitate when he was asked to lead the university through a pandemic and an overall trying seven months as interim president. On May 6, the Kansas Board of Regents showed its appreciation and confidence in his leadership, giving Muma its nod of approval and making him the official 15th president of the university.
He served as acting and then interim president since fall of 2020. He handled the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues with grace, patience and calm that gave others confidence in his leadership.
On Thursday, the Kansas Board of Regents appointed Muma as the 15th president of Wichita State University to a 22-second standing ovation before Muma stepped to the microphone to address the crowd in the Shirley Beggs Ballroom in the Rhatigan Student Center.
“The relationships he’s built at Wichita State gave him a very, very clear advantage,” said Dan Peare, chair of the search committee. “More importantly, this university needs a leader who listens, who builds consensus, who is a collaborator who builds a team and lets the team work.”
That theme – Muma as someone who knows how Wichita State got to this point and can continue the progress by working with people – flowed through the morning.
“In listening to people through this process … you find out that Wichita State University is already kind of a shining light out there for applied learning,” said Allen Schmidt, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents and the presidential search committee. “Rick’s had something to do with that. He is a leader who has already shown the way and is highly capable.”
Muma has been a cornerstone of the campus community for more than 25 years as a professor, department chair, executive vice president and provost, acting president and — most recently — interim president.
“I am deeply honored,” he said. “I love this university. I see so many opportunities. Even in light of our recent challenges, we are in a position to move the university forward together in a very positive way.”
The pandemic tested Muma’s leadership, and he relied on his background as a certified physician assistant and health professional to help the campus respond to the crisis. On Zoom calls, he reassured faculty and staff that the safety and well-being of the campus community was always the priority. He referred to his experience and research during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s in Texas as a road map.
The search committee watched Muma help lead Wichita State navigate through the difficulties the university and the world endured in 2020.
National Institute for Aviation Research
“As the interim president, we see he is bringing the team together and moving forward,” Schmidt said. “We saw Rick as the team-builder type with a lot of capabilities in many areas in terms of leadership.”
Muma has also shown dedication to Wichita State and the Kansas Board of Regents’ priorities.
"He knows where the university needs to go and has the exact leadership style that works with our community and with our students, faculty and staff,” said John Tomblin, executive director of the National Institute for Aviation Research. “Rick has the ability to listen to all sides before he makes a decision. Rick can lead and he can also show that he’s done the job, too. That represents what Rick is.”
Wichita State’s headcount enrollment surpassed 16,000 before the pandemic, and the fall 2020 enrollment of 15,500 stood as the third best in the past 30 years. An emphasis on recruiting students from the I-35 corridor is paying off, and the Innovation Campus continues to attract new partners to campus and offer students applied learning opportunities. New programming such as the School of Digital Arts, the College of Applied Studies and Army ROTC are also helping enrollment grow.
“I believe that Wichita State will see more growth in the next decade than any other university in the state,” Peare said. “And it could become, someday, the largest university in the state of Kansas. At Wichita State, you have the new model. You come here, you go to school, you have applied learning. You get real-world experience. You have all that in one setting, one community. I think that’s the model for tomorrow.”
Before assuming the executive vice president and provost position in 2018, Muma served as the senior associate vice president for Academic Affairs and Strategic Enrollment Management. While at Wichita State, he has also served as chair and professor in the departments of Public Health Sciences and Physician Assistant.
“I believe him when he says he loves Wichita State,” said Dr. Kaye Monk-Morgan, vice president for Strategic Engagement and Planning. “I don’t think you can ask for much more in a leader than passion for the state that they’re in and the people that are there.”
Schmidt watched the crowd of faculty, students and staff stand, smile and clap when the word became official. Many of those people have known Muma for years and rooted for his rise to Morrison Hall.
“I heard the applause when we made the announcement. That tells me there was a lot of support amongst the people here,” he said. “The big thing is now we’ve got to keep the momentum going.”